Advice from dad helps Schalmont girls’ basketball star Payton Graber during march to state semifinals

Schalmont’s Payton Graber with the ball against Gouverneur’s Torie Salisbury in Saratoga Springs on Tuesday, March 8.

Schalmont’s Payton Graber with the ball against Gouverneur’s Torie Salisbury in Saratoga Springs on Tuesday, March 8.

ROTTERDAM — Before Payton Graber played in one of the most important games of her life, dad Jason Graber did what he always does before his daughter competes on the basketball court, and sent her a text message filled with reminders.

“Stay out of foul trouble. Be smart on defense. Penetrate gaps. Have fun,” said Jason Graber, reciting his message sent before Schalmont’s Class B girls’ basketball regional final against Saranac last Sunday. 

Payton Graber and her teammates did that with another history-making win that sent Schalmont to its first girls’ state final four. Payton Graber scored a team-high 19 points in that 54-30 win, after a nice nudge from her dad, who is a former Schalmont basketball star.

“He always texts me before a game. He always gives me that little lift,” Payton Graber said. “‘Be yourself. Play hard.’ I look forward to those texts.”

They are just one part of the basketball bond between the two.

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“He started coaching me in CDYBL when I was in fifth grade, and he’s still coaching me,” Payton said of her dad, a versatile 6-foot-4 forward who played in college at the University at Albany. “He does it from the stands, and a little at home.”

Jason Graber said he’s been coaching Payton less and enjoying more in recent years. Along the way, he saw his 5-foot-8 daughter with excellent shooting range set the school career scoring record as a junior and lead the Sabres to their first Section II girls’ title since 1986 as a senior.

“I can almost bite my tongue,” Jason Graber said. “It’s because of Payton’s development as a player and her maturity. I see something, and she sees the same thing.”

At first, parents Jason and Stacie Graber didn’t know if Payton Graber would gravitate to basketball like her older siblings, Preston and Madison, had.

“She was more into soccer. She picked up basketball in fourth or fifth grade and said, ‘I’m pretty good,” Jason Graber said. “The rest is history.”

Jason Graber can relate to the fabulous run this season’s Schalmont girls’ team, which is 25-1, is enjoying. His 1990 Schalmont team (21-4) won the Section II Class B championship, marking the first title for the boys’ team since 1966. Jason Graber was selected the tournament MVP after his squad knocked off Johnstown for the area banner, and Payton Graber likewise garnered MVP honors after her Sabres topped Fonda-Fultonville for the area championship.

“For me, that holds a special place in my heart. We made memories you keep forever,” Jason Graber said of his 1990 team coached by Ron Osinski. “You want your child to have the same experience.”

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Jason Graber said Payton Graber “was talking about winning a section title since eighth grade. When she was a sophomore, you could start to see there was something special there. It’s too bad the way it worked out last year with the COVID [when Schalmont went 8-0 in a shortened season]. Maybe they win it last year, too.”

Schalmont beat Gouverneur before beating Saranac, with those regional wins the first-ever for the girls’ program. Schalmont’s only other Section II girls’ title team in 1986 saw its season end with a regional loss. Jason Graber’s Schalmont team that won a Section II championship in 1990 was also derailed with a regional defeat.

“I actually didn’t think about that,” Payton Graber said. “I’ll have to remind him of that.”

Schalmont will be playing another first-time final four team in General Brown (Section III, 23-2) at Hudson Valley Community College, after Waterloo (Section I, 25-0) and Putnam Valley (Section IV, 18-7) play the first Class B semifinal Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Sunday’s title game at HVCC is set for 11:45 a.m.

“I’m sure I’ll get one of those texts from my dad. It will say something like, ‘Be a leader. You can do it. Play hard.’” Payton Graber said. “He’s always been my biggest fan.”

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